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ATF fluid used in CVT Transmission

My 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid died yesterday and the dealership said that the transmission is ruined and needs to be replaced. It has 102,000 miles and has a Constant Variable Transmission. At 84,000 miles I had the transmission fluid drained and refilled at a local reputable mechanic (not the dealership) and they added 3.5 quarts of Honda ATF fluid instead of CVT fluid.

Is that what killed my transmission? Why was it able to run for 20,000 miles with the wrong fluid? I have been very good about getting oil changes and keeping up on the maintenance. What is the life expectancy of this transmission? Should the mechanic who made the error replace the transmission at no cost to me? Should he reimburse me for my rental car?

What steps should I take?


  • CVT's need specific fluid, and if your mechanic used the ATF for regular Honda transmissions, then it is very likely that this caused the failure of your transmission. CVT's are somewhat new (actually re-surging), so we don't know what their life expectancy is, but with proper maintenance they should be fine.

    Now, getting your mechanic to pay for the repair might be difficult. You have all the receipts? Try talking to him and see what he says. If he has good insurance, you might get somewhere. You could look into small claims court.
  • edited June 2012
    If the OP knew that the wrong fluid was used by his/her mechanic...why did he/she allow it to remain in the transmission for 20k miles?

    Using the wrong fluid in any transmission--but especially a CVT--will kill it, but if the fluid had been drained and flushed a couple of times before adding the correct fluid, it is possible that the damage could have been limited. But..after 20k miles...nothing would likely save it.

    Truthfully, however, I am amazed that the trans lasted that long before failing.
  • Yes, your mechanic was at fault. Transmissions are very delicate mechanisms and need the correct fluid. I'm also surprised it lasted 20k miles with the wrong fluid. Usually a CVT will fail much sooner with the wrong fluid.

    You should go back and talke to him nicely, with receipt in hand, and also the dealer's written diagnosis and estimate for installing a used or rebuilt CVT. Have the dealer do the work, but ask the mechanic to have his insurance co reimburse you for the work.

    Your mechanic has no excuse for his mistake, so he should absolutely pay. First, he should know that ALL Honda automatic transmissions require special Honda fluid, not generic ATF, and second, he should have consulted his book and found that yours was a CVT that required CVT fluid. So he has no excuse and should absolutely pay for ruining your tranmission.

    Again, don't let him do the repair. Make sure it's done by the dealer.
  • PS...I see you said he installed Honda at least he DID use Honda fluid...but still it was the wrong fluid and still a mistake he should not have made, so he should still pay to make it right.
  • I only found out the wrong fluid was put in after my car died and the dealership looked at the fluid and saw that it was not the right color. They speculated that the wrong fluid had been put in, and I confirmed this when I looked back at the work order from the mechanic who changed the fluid.

    As it stands the mechanic AND the dealership are looking around for a used transmission to put in the car. On Monday let's hope that the mechanic agrees to cover the cost. He admits to putting the wrong fluid in but is dubious because:

    1. the transmission lasted 20,000 miles on the wrong fluid
    2. only 3.5 quarts where added
    3. CVT''s have shorter life spans and my car has 100k.

    These are the points I will potentially have to argue on Monday so if anyone has any insight, please advise!

    Could the wrong fluid cause a slow death? Does quantity not matter; could 3.5 quarts do the damage? Should my car have lasted to 120k-160k?

    Where can I find info on the actual life span of this car, not the predicted life-span?
  • There was another poster who had something very simular happen to a civic Hybrid about two weeks ago. That poster had over 200K on his CVT when someone put in the wrong fluid and destroyed the trans. So yes in all likley hood, assuming you have been good at changing out the fluid, you had alot of life left to go.
  • A regular automatic transmission and a CVT automatic transmission are completely different in how they work mechanically. Therefore the fluids required is completely different too. A regular auto transmission is basically a hydralic pump with some gears and "bands". A CVT uses concentric "cones" with either a belt or chain between them that changes ratios due to speed and centrifical forces.

    The improper fluid "killed" the CVT transmission, no doubt about that. A used CVT replacement at the expense of the repair shop is due here, if you can get it. If you want a new or "factory rebuilt" CVT you might have to put some of your own money into the settlement. A new (or factory rebuilt) CVT would likely last longer since the condition of the used CVT is an "unknown".

    If you get a used CVT, I 'd trade the car in shortly after the repair is successfully completed. If you get a new or rebuilt CVT and you like the car then you should be fine for many more years if you keep the car.
  • 1. The transmission lasted 20k maybe because some of the correct fluid remained in it, or because you got lucky, or both.

    2. But 3.5 qts of the wrong fluid will absolutely kill a CVT. Therr's no doubt your mechanic killed it.

    3. Modern CVT's should last just as long as regular autos. You may have gotten another 100k out of that CVT with proper maintenance. As gsragtop pointed out, others on this forum have gotten 200k+ out of their CVT's.

    Do not let your mechamic off the hook. He has no excuse and owes you a replacement CVT.

  • The wrong fluid is the wrong fluid. Period. If your mechanic filled your transmission with brake fluid and it broke, would he question whether the fluid was at fault? If he filled it with washer fluid would anyone question whether the fluid contributed to transmission failure?

    Cars are engineered with some very specific and important fluid specifications and to not follow them is going to result in mechanical failure. Now your mechanic made an honest mistake, as everyone does, but my opinion is he owes you a replacement transmission of about the same age and mileage as yours.

    Nissan CVTs have some reputation for early failure but in my opinion the Hondas have proven to be quite durable.
  • Many Honda CVT transmissions have failed before 120,000 miles with the correct CVT fluid in them...At this mileage, hoping for a new transmission paid for by someone else is wishful thinking in my opinion..Maybe you can get the shop that installed the "wrong" fluid to pay for some percentage of the repair...
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